UK Border Force officers have seized half a tonne of cocaine with an estimated street value of £50 million (€58.83 million) at a port in Essex.
The drugs – which were worth £16 million at wholesale prices – were smuggled into Britain in a shipment of tinned Tuna from Ecuador via Belgium. Police said the consignment was ultimately destined for mainland Europe, but that some of it would likely have ended up back in the UK once it had been mixed with cutting agents and sold on to dealers.
Officers found the drugs in eight holdalls that had been concealed in a container at the DP World London Gateway Port. Border Force Assistant Director at the dock said the find was the largest in the port’s history, noting that the seizure would have significantly disrupted the organised criminals behind it.
The National Crime Agency (NCA), which is often referred to as the UK’s equivalent to the FBI, is now trying to establish where the drugs came from.
“We are now working closely with our law enforcement colleagues overseas as part of the ongoing investigation,” the Press Association quotes Matthew Rivers from the NCA’s Border Policing Command as saying.
“Cocaine is a commodity that has direct association to highly aggressive crime. A consignment of this size would undoubtedly have filtered through organised crime groups also associated with firearms, knife crime, exploitation of the young and vulnerable and gang culture. Seizing it has removed the opportunity to make profit from those groups.”
News of the seizure comes just days after it was revealed that Britain is the cocaine capital of Europe. Earlier this week, a new report from the European Commission and the OECD said that 4.2% of young British adults aged between 15 and 34 reported using the drug at least once in the previous year, compared to just 1.9% across Europe as a whole.
“The percentage of young adults consuming cocaine is highest in the United Kingdom, Spain and the Netherlands, with 3% or more of young adults having used cocaine at least once in the last year,” the report said.
Greece, Romania and Bulgaria were the three countries in which the fewest young adults reported having used cocaine in the previous 12 months, according to the study. In all three countries, less than 0.3% of young people admitted to consuming the drug over the past year. Overall, cocaine was found to be “the most commonly used illicit stimulant in Europe”, the authors of the report noted.
The report – titled Health at a Glance: Europe 2016 – also revealed that cocaine usage has risen in at least six countries over the past few years, including the Czech Republic, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway and Poland.